Brett Hull is excited to see what his friend and former teammate Adam Oates can do as the head coach of the Washington Capitals, particularly when it comes to how he can help revitalize Alex Ovechkin.
Well, to a certain extent.
“I’m excited about it but I’m also not really excited about it because he’s going to break all the records,” Hull said with a laugh. “It’s crazy. He’s going to thrive under Oates. There’s just no question. When I played, Adam was my coach. He told me what we were going to do, when we were going to do it, how we were going to do it and it always worked. He’ll be able to do the same thing with Ovechkin and [Nicklas] Backstrom too.”
Leading up to Oates’s induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday night, Hull has spent a lot of time reminiscing about his time playing with the Weston, Ontario, native and pondering what the future may have in store for his friend.
They played only 195 regular season games together in St. Louis, but both men readily admit that their chemistry was unlike any other experience they had during their careers. In less than three seasons, Oates recorded 286 points (228 assists) and Hull notched 212 of his 741 career goals. And Hull believes that Oates’s experience working with superstar players, from himself to Boston’s Cam Neely and Washington’s Peter Bondra will help the first-time head coach make a connection with Ovechkin.
“To me, the number one thing in being a great coach is being able to understand great players. When you’re a great player, like Adam, and have played with great players you understand them,” Hull said. “Alex Ovechkin is going to be like a kid in a candy store. He’s going to be reborn and he’s going to be the happiest kid on the planet because he’s going to have a coach that gets him.”
The decline in Ovechkin’s scoring prowess has been well documented over the past two years. He went from recording three consecutive seasons with over 100 points and at least 50 goals to totaling just 85 points (38 goals) in 2010-11. Last year, his offensive production shrunk to 65 points (38 goals) and in the playoffs Dale Hunter infamously limited Ovechkin’s postseason ice time.
The hypotheses of why Ovechkin underwent this transformation are as numerous as they are familiar: his opponents have figured him out, the Capitals’ systematic changes restricted his creativity, going 100 mph is finally taking a toll on him physically, fewer goals are being scored across the NHL, so on and so forth.
It’s likely a combination of those factors and more, but Hull thinks if there’s anyone who can jump-start the Great Eight it’s Oates.
”He’s going to get Ovechkin. He’s going to get the ego – and egos aren’t a bad thing,” Hull said. “All great players, all great goal scorers have egos. You have to feed the ego and the more you feed the ego the happier Ovechkin is, the happier the rest of the team is, the better the rest of the team plays.”
On Monday, Oates agreed with the assessment that his time as a teammate of elite players prepared him to understanding the demands they face when coaching them.
“They have different pressures,” Oates said. “They drive to the rink and he expects to score a goal tonight. Yeah, he wants to win but he expects to score a goal. Yeah, we’re going to win and me score. [Alex Rodriguez] goes to the ball park expecting to hit a homer not a single, Kobe Bryant knows he’s going to get 30 shots. If we’re going to win it’s because I’m scoring tonight — they have a different mind-set.
“Playing with Hully — there was a lot of pressure on Brett Hull every night,” Oates continued. “He always laughed it off and made a joke of it but that was his way of deflecting it but every single night Brett had to score and we were going to win.”
So do you embrace the way star players approach the game as a coach?
“Absolutely, it’s part of the deal,” Oates said. Ovechkin “feels that. I expect him to score, the fans do. Because what I do know is, when he goes five games without, that’s the headline.”
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